Missing in action - Angelina Jolie interview
Playing the real-life mother of a missing child in Clint Eastwood’s latest film was an emotionally fraught experience for Angelina Jolie, she tells Rob Carnevale
Few cinematic subjects are as emotionally devastating for both actors and audience as the loss of a child. Changeling, Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial project, proved doubly so for its star, Angelina Jolie.
Jolie had turned down the project initially because she found the script, which was based on real life events, too upsetting. But then something happened. ‘I found myself sitting with people, wanting them to know about this extraordinary woman,’ she says, sitting before me in the relative comfort of a plush London hotel.
The ‘extraordinary woman’ in question is Christine Collins, whose twelve year old son, Walter, went missing on 10 March, 1928. Although the boy’s disappearance received nationwide attention, the Los Angeles Police Department was unable to find him until, five months later, a boy claiming to be Walter was found and returned to his mother at a public reunion.
Bizarrely, though, it wasn’t her son and when Collins pointed this out to the officer in charge of the case, he persuaded her to take him home anyway, to spare the department from embarrassment. When she persisted with her claims, even supplying evidence, he had her institutionalised.
Without revealing Walter’s true fate, Christine’s plight and persistence in fighting police corruption did eventually bring down an administration, and resulted in new national legislation making it illegal for the police to commit people to psychiatric facilities without a warrant.
‘It became a story about democracy in action,’ says Jolie. ‘I found it very inspiring and really wanted people to know about her. I felt like it was an extra piece of justice for her.’
As inspiring as elements of the story are, the role did take its toll on the mother of six, who regularly sought solace in the arms of her children while filming.
‘I had them with me, as much as possible, at lunch and after a day at work I’d just run home. I just wanted to be silly. I was so emotional that I just found myself being very, very goofy with them. I was so happy that I knew where they were and that they were OK.’
Playing Collins had even more emotional impact for Jolie, though. She cries openly as she describes how her portrayal was based on the memory of her own mother, Marcheline, who passed away in January 2007 following a battle with cancer.
‘Her name was Marcheline, but we called her Marshmallow as a joke, because she was just the softest, most gentle woman in the world.
‘She couldn’t swear to save her life. But when it came to her kids, she was really, really fierce and so this is very much her story, in that she was the woman I related to, who had that elegance and strength through just knowing what was right.’
Jolie’s dedication to the role has left her strongly tipped for an Oscar nomination. If successful, she’d be following in the footsteps of an impressive array of actors who have been recognised for their performances after working with Eastwood. Hilary Swank won Best Actress for her performance in Million Dollar Baby, with Morgan Freeman picking up Best Supporting Actor on the same film. Sean Penn and Tim Robbins both took acting awards in 2003 after Eastwood directed them in Mystic River, while Meryl Streep and Marcia Gay Harden were nominated for their roles in The Bridges of Madison County and Mystic River respectively. It’s hardly surprising, then, to hear that Jolie had long wanted to work with the director, and found the experience as rewarding as it was daunting. ‘In person he’s a really good man. Very solid, very fair and a strong leader,’ she says of the cinema icon.
Eastwood’s famous no-nonsense style also brought its own set of challenges, however. As she talks about his working methods, Jolie offers some clues as to how Eastwood, himself nominated eight times for the Best Director Oscar, manages to secure such sterling performances.
‘He’s famous for shooting just one or two takes, which does sound terrifying,’ she says, smiling again. ‘He’ll take more than one if he needs it. But he’ll be very prepared from the moment you walk in the door, so, as an actor you have this feeling of having to bring your all. You don’t have a lot of time to over-think things, so it keeps you very in the moment and very real.’
Changeling is on general release from Wed 26 Nov.